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Influenza – [Flu]

The flu season starts in late December and lasts two to three months. At this time, pneumonia rates soar and many elderly people die unnecessarily because they didn’t have their flu vaccine. Flu occurs every year but there are worldwide outbreaks every 10 to 15 years. With millions of influenza cases in Russia, this sounds like one of these bad years.

Flu is a serious disease, but just what is it? A shaking chill and headache and a feeling of profound bodily discomfort called “malaise,” which usher in a sore throat, a dry cough, and a temperature of 102° or more. Flu patients usually ache all over and this is often concentrated in the low back and thighs. Within a few days, these symptoms subside. One may feel safe but the lung has been made wet and soggy and the protective lining of the bronchial tubes has been stripped off so the lung is very susceptible to bacteria from one’s own throat or infections from other people. The patient may become acutely ill and need to be admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.

When the flu strikes, it hits the lining cells of the trachea, bronchi and small tubes or bronchioles. They have undulating hairs that move mucus secreted by interspersed goblet cells towards the mouth. This blanket of mucus removes all particles of dust and bacteria. When the moving hair cells are gone, bacteria stay in the chest and invade the lung. This secondary pneumonia is the biggest danger of influenza, particularly in the elderly.

There are three main invaders that cause this secondary pneumonia: The pneumococcus of old-fashioned lobar pneumonia which can be prevented by another vaccine; hemophilus (blood loving) influenzae once thought to be the cause of flu before the causative virus was discovered; and, worst of all, Staphylococcus aureus, the cause of boils, abscesses, and often lethal pneumonia with complicating blood poisoning septicemia, a stormy illness.

There are new drugs that attack the influenza virus called “amantadine,” and “rimantidine,” which can be very useful as a few people get pure viral pneumonia without any bacteria. Although influenza vaccine should be given mid October to mid November, it can still be given later. There are antibiotics also which can cure one or all of the invading bacteria if you are so unlucky as to get influenza with complicating, life-threatening pneumonia. The prime target population for the vaccine is people with chronic lung or chronic heart disease and all people over 65.

Take care – it will be around until February. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (to protect others!). Wash your hands a lot and avoid crowds. Echinacea, vitamin C, and vitamin A in daily doses are a good preventive. Notice that is not preventative (misspelled everywhere).

DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is for general informational purposes only, and is provided as a supplement for students enrolled in Meditec’s medical career training courses. The information should NOT be used for actual diagnostic or treatment purposes or in lieu of diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician.